Prior to the March Madness Championship Game, I made it a practice in these pages that Gonzaga was the team to beat. After all, the Zags were undefeated with a season-full of double-digit wins.
Then, along came the Baylor Bears. Gonzaga walked onto the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday night one victory from becoming the first men’s college basketball team to go undefeated since the Indiana Hoosiers were perfect 45 years ago.
Two hours later, there was no longer an unbeaten team as Baylor completely dismantled the Bulldogs, 86-70, by Baylor in a game that wasn’t as close as the margin would indicate.
The national title ended a 55-year drought for the state of Texas, which had won only one other national title, that of the historic Texas Western team of 1966. It enabled Baylor to beat Gonzaga to the punch of a first national title, even though the Zags have been at this March Madness for an astounding 22 straight tournaments, including two Finals losses since 2017.
The national championship culminates a ‘rags to riches’ story for Baylor. Head coach Scott Drew, back in 2003, took over the program after one teammate had murdered another and a head coach had tried to slander the deceased while facing multiple recruiting violations. Drew went 21-53 his first three seasons and still refers back to his early days of holding walk-on tryouts. Soon thereafter, winning records became commonplace and now the school is talking national championships instead of murder indictments.
For Gonzaga, the final represented heartbreak. The Bulldogs dominated their opponents all season long. Though they play in the relatively weak Western Athletic Conference, the Zags handled a difficult non-conference schedule that included Kansas, Virginia, Iowa and Auburn.
What Gonzaga’s schedule did not include was an opponent like Baylor. And now it’s final memory of this season will be a night they never led and were outplayed from start to finish.
Baylor Bears win NCAA championship